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Nepal delays polls in flashpoint province


Nepal postponed local elections in one flashpoint province on Thursday in an attempt to appease a party representing the country’s Madhesi minority that had threatened to boycott the polls.

It is the latest in a series of delays to the country’s first local elections in 20 years, a key step in a drawn-out post-civil war peace process.

A first phase of elections was held successfully last month in three provinces.

But repeated threats of protest by the Madhesi, an ethnic minority group living along the border with India, has led to elections in the remaining four provinces being repeatedly pushed back.

On Thursday, senior government minister Farmullah Mansoor told AFP that elections in province two would now take place on September 18, although polls in three other provinces will go ahead as scheduled.

Province two is a stronghold of the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RPJ-N) — the largest party representing the Madhesi, which had demanded a postponement.

The Madhesi, who live in Nepal’s populous southern lowlands and share close linguistic and cultural ties with India, have long complained that the existing federal borders deprive them of fair political representation.

They have been demanding that Nepal’s provincial boundaries be redrawn through an amendment to the constitution.

The RJP-N however said the delay did not fully address their demands and vowed to maintain the boycott.

“The government is trying to avoid taking the risk of a confrontational election by shifting the dates right now,” said Sudheer Sharma, editor of Nepal’s Kantipur newspaper.

“The RJP has not expressed full consent, so there is no guarantee they will participate if the polls are shifted.”

It is unclear if — or when — the government will attempt to pass the amendment bill, which the largest opposition party staunchly opposes.

The local elections are supposed to be the final step in the peace deal that ended the civil war in 2006.

They pave the way for provincial polls and then national elections, which have to be held by January 2018 when the mandate of the current parliament expires.

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